Now is a tricky time for kids — and parents.
Spring and school are ending, usually with a frenzied bang of class parties, proms and exams. Summer beckons. Even if you have had your kids’ summer schedules set since January, emotional work remains to be done as our children transition from school into summer. Especially if graduation from college, high school, middle school or even kindergarten is part of the adjustment at hand.
First up: remember that transitions are hard for us adults. Starting that first day on a new job, moving to a different apartment, getting a new car, not to mention biggies like marriage, birth, divorce, deaths – all involve a strange flux of stress, grief, annoying logistical details, and excitement.
So step back and imagine how much tougher transitions are for kids, who may be experiencing the unsettling, bewildering mix of stress and conflicting emotions for the very first time. Change can be overwhelming for kids. In order to prevent our children from shutting down emotionally or acting out irrationally, parents sometimes need to step in, albeit gently.
Here are three good and simple guidelines for assisting and honoring transitions that our kids face.
- First, let kids experience their own range of feelings about transition. Exhilaration, sadness, fear, regret, agitation, and joy are all normal responses to change. And rarely do they come in nice neat bursts – it’s more typical to feel a shot of tears coupled with eagerness for the next phase and then wondering what’s for dinner.
- Second, give your child a lasting way to mark the occasion – the school yearbook or a signature pillow; lots of group pictures; a graduation party; writing goodbye cards to teachers, etc, are all good ways to honor and memorialize the changes.
- Third — but sometimes hardest — separate your feelings from your kids’ responses. Don’t impose your sadness/uncertainty/excitement upon them. Feel your feelings, of course. This is a transition for you too. In some ways, your transition may be even more momentous than your child’s, since adults have a greater sense of the finality of change. You may be far more in touch with how you feel than your child is. So feel what you feel – on your own time — and give your kids room to feel what they feel separately. As my senior son said, “You already went to college Mom – this is my turn.”
Overall, remember what it’s like to be a kid experiencing and learning good life lessons from this kind of inevitable change – with all its inherent conflicting excitement and trepidation. Sit back, soak in the adjustments, observe how your kids are adapting to change for the first time. Note well: a child whose parents intervene too frequently to shield them from pain often turns into an overly clingy or insecure young adult, afraid the world is too challenging, lacking confidence and resilience. Seeing our kids grow and mature, and successfully weather big and small life transitions, either clumsily or with aplomb, is one of the sweetest (and most bittersweet) treats parenthood offers.